A Golden Rule View of Immigration Reform

Is the answer to today’s immigration debate changed by considering the issue from a Golden Rule perspective?

The Golden Rule concepts of “doing unto others as one would have done to oneself” and its negative form of “not doing to others what one would not want done in return” are shared by every major religion and most atheists/agnostics as a guide for personal behavior. I believe the unifying nature of Golden Rule principles makes them much more: a core concept to drive government decisions as well. Let’s consider this against the issue of immigration reform.

Critical components of following the Golden Rule include imagining ourselves in the circumstances of others and acting consistently across various scenarios. Many questions arise when it comes to immigration reform, including:

  1. If I had trouble taking care of my family in my existing country, would I want another country to allow me to move there with no restrictions? Sure.
  2. On the flip side, if I’m having trouble finding work at a livable wage because too many potential workers exist for the given number of jobs, in part due to illegal immigration, would I find this fair? No.
  3. If I’m waiting in line in a traffic jam, do I get angry when someone drives off on the shoulder and skips around past me in line? Absolutely, which is the way legal immigrants often think about illegal immigration.
  4. Do I want to live in a country where those who break the law have a greater chance of succeeding than those who follow the law? Of course not.
  5. If I have lived with my family somewhere for a decade, would I want to be forcibly removed from that home and separated from parts of my family? No.
  6. If I permanently moved to France, would I expect to learn French and integrate into the community, or would I seek to remain segregated? I would learn the language and integrate myself.
  7. Would I appreciate it if there were government programs in my new country to help me learn a new language and integrate into the culture? Sure.
  8. If a government does not enforce a law, do I always follow it? I’ve been known to speed a time or two on I-88 into Chicago, where driving at the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit is actually hazardous.
  9. Does it make sense for the Mexican government to chide the U.S. for not having open borders when its own laws are highly restrictive of Central Americans who try to move to Mexico? No consistency there.
  10. Is my country more or less likely to survive with a successful system of government if we allow large numbers of people to move in who come from countries with proven records of government failure, particularly if we don’t provide education on what makes America’s system succeed? Less likely.
  11. Immigrants from Europe first came to the United States to escape religious persecution and seek prosperity restricted by their lineage in their home countries. Over the next centuries, these immigrants pressed Native Americans and Mexicans in the Southwest out of many of their lands through voluntary means, fear generation and outright violence. Was this fair to those who were displaced or killed? Certainly not to those killed, though it is fair to the displaced who voluntarily sold their land or agreed to share it cooperatively in return for new products, new skills and a better quality of life.
  12. Do two wrongs make a right, particularly when several generations or more separate victims of the wrongs? I’ll treat this as a rhetorical question.
  13. Can successful forms of government be destroyed by an excessive flow of new entrants, enabling unsuccessful forms of government to be sustained for far longer than if internal reform pressure did not have an easy release valve? Yes.
  14. Would I want to endure the horrendous waiting times and bureaucratic processes of today’s U.S. legal immigration system? Clearly not.
  15. Would I expect China to send me back to the United States if I overstayed my legal welcome in that country? Of course.

After weighing these questions and many more, thinking about how I would want to be treated, how everyone around would be affected by my choices, the long-term implications of various policy options and whether my perspective are consistent across various scenarios, I decided that the principles established in the Senate immigration compromise created by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and many others are the right principles.

Unfortunately, neither the actual language of the legislation passed by the Senate nor the statements of Administration officials after its passage provide any reason to believe that the principles would be followed in implementation. Particularly damaging to establishing cross-party trust were statements by then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the border with Mexico was as secure as ever, when it was clear that the real reason for drops in border crossings was that the weak U.S. economy wasn’t attracting as many to take the risks involved in entering illegally.

It’s important to remember the principles behind the Senate compromise that are lost in mistrust, sometimes deserving, between the political parties:

  • Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  • Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  • Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
  • Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

The complete principles make sense and fit with how I answer the many questions surrounding immigration from a Golden Rule perspective.

Given that the Senate agreement allows the Administration substantial leeway in determining when borders are secure, trust is an important element in getting immigration reform past the U.S. House. A new Fox News poll (of everyone, not just Fox News viewers) suggests that gaining that trust is unlikely in this Administration. Just over 60 percent of Americans believe that President Obama lies some or most of the time on important policy matters and another 20 percent say he lies “only now and then.” Only 15 percent of Americans believe President Obama never lies on important policy issues. Fox Poll

A Golden Rule evaluation of immigration reform might lead us to the right answers. However, it can’t break through broken or never established bonds of trust.



2 thoughts on “A Golden Rule View of Immigration Reform”

  1. Immigration reform is vital for many reasons.
    Some of the key ones from my perspective:

    1. Economic growth: history has proven that population growth is a key driver for economic growth that improves prosperity for all. Since the number of children for the average american family has decreased over the last 70 years (just like most developed countries) immigration is key. The bonus is that most immigrants are young adults that will form families and have children, which requires the our have of a home, furniture, car, etc… It takes great courage and “get up and go” to leave your homeland. That is why immigrants tend to be more entrepreneurial than the average citizen. Just think of Sergei Brin at Google and Elon Musk at Tesla and thousands like them and one quickly gets a picture of the economic asset immigrants are. Unfortunately many Americans have a stereo type view of immigrants being uneducated and wanting welfare, which applies only to a small minority. Even the uneducated immigrants typically work hard in agriculture, slaughter houses, construction and landscaping, often hard jobs that average Americans do not want.

    2. Many refer to illegals jumping the line being both illegal and unfair to those who immigrated legally. Having immigrated myself 23 years ago, I still clearly remember how challenging the 3 step process: 1 – work visa, 2 – green card, 3 – citizenship is, even with company support. It became obvious to us that the average person would have a tough time ever getting that visa, no matter how long they were willing to wait. The reality is that for the Central American farm boy with little educations, the odds of getting a visa on his own is nearly impossible, hence so many have crossed the Rio Grande illegally. The only thing that has slowed that movement down is the US recession and economic growth and smaller families in Mexico. A simple “guest worker” program would address a lot of this illegal immigration. Many poor Central American workers would be happy to come here for 6 – 8 months at harvest time and then return home for winter. Canada has had such a program for decades.

    3. As your example of all of us speeding on 88 because 55 is an unreasonable speed limit points out, unreasonable laws make it “reasonable” for us to break them. Same for the existing unreasonable immigrations laws. Reform that provides a fair chance for both permanent and guest worker immigrants would be win win for all.

    As Japan and Russia are finding out the hard way, shrinking populations do not create an environment for growth and prosperity.

    1. Great points. You’ve explained many of the reasons I hope we’ll get past inter-party trust divides and get real immigration reform done. We should have laws we believe are worthy of enforcement (a concept we should apply to speed limits as well). On immigration, our status quo laws and enforcement are failing. It seems obvious, then, that we need a new direction.

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